Emergency, Feature, Lighting Controls

Emergency Lighting Conference: The view from the chair

A few years ago I attended a voice workshop near Tara in Ireland; one of those hippy-dippy events  that included more than a bit of primal screaming. One of the women there was clearly struggling with the way things were going and I asked her what was going on for her. ‘I am SO bored.’ she exasperated. It turned out that her usual shtick was ‘warrior training’ – the kind of personal development that reinforces your own self-belief but scares the bejasus out of everyone around you.

Given that we were so near to the heart of Ireland I asked if she dreamed of being a warrior guardian of the Hill of Tara back in the day before the English showed up. This, of course, was exactly what she imagined herself doing. ‘But what happens if no one turns up? How are you going to feel if all your warrior training means is that you stand on top of a hill for thirty years and no one gets to feel the edge of your blade. How bored will you be then?’

Which preamble brings me to this year’s Emergency Lighting Conference, because there is a disturbing parallel between my crazy friend and the average emergency lighting specifier. After all, ‘nothing’ is what is most likely to happen, so what does it matter if you leave your post early – or tick the same specification boxes as you’ve been doing scheme after scheme after scheme. What’s the worst that can happen?

And then, because once or twice in a lifetime something DOES happen, everything shifts into sharp focus. The tragic events at Grenfell Tower, just down the road from the conference venue, gave the conference an entirely new atmosphere.

Some delegates remembered a similar shift in attitude after the Kings Cross fire in 1987 that killed 31 people and injured over 100 others. Alan Daniels, technical director at P4 Fastel, and who contributed so much to this conference, was involved in the new standards that were introduced as a consequence of that catastrophe. He can feel the same mood today as investigators look for causes of the fire in North Kensington.


Who is responsible?

Perhaps it was because of that single drum beat running through the day, but so much of what was presented came back to a single word: RESPONSIBILITY. From the opening sessions that looked at recent changes to emergency lighting regulations and the impact on scheme compliance, the issue came down to the actions of the competent person; the designer, the installer, the supplier and including the client, who is obliged to produce a risk assessment of a building before any design work can be undertaken.


What should be covered by design?

Traditional ‘responsible’ thinking is based on a simple commercial transaction; the scheme and its products is only as good as the manufacturer’s guarantee; after that, it’s someone else’s problem. But the idea of having a competent person providing oversight on an installation throughout its life changes that.

We all know that the overwhelming majority of emergency lighting fixtures see no maintenance from the time they’re installed until the day dawns when someone realises that they haven’t been working for a year or more. Part of the changes in fire safety legislation in the wake of Grenfell Tower will demand better management and maintenance of fire safety systems, including emergency lighting, and that can only be a good thing.


Keeping control in our hands

Automated lighting controls always get their hour in the sun at events like the Emergency Lighting Conference. There is a very practical argument for replacing manual inspection of an emergency lighting installation, the strongest being that manual testing doesn’t get done because it’s too time-consuming and too costly.

Happily, it’s the kind of message from the platform that always gets an arm raised in the audience to remind the speakers that it may be one thing to save time testing the luminaires but it doesn’t remove the need for a visual inspection of the installation as a whole.

Signs get damaged, extinguishers disappear and old sofas appear in front of exit doors. I would refer you to the above comment questioning what would be the worst that could happen.

As ever, you get to the end of the day with a head full of information, ideas and arguments and the adrenalin flows. This year the day was charged with the failure of safety systems leading to so much heartbreak, but the overall sense is that the emergency lighting industry is in good shape.


Thanks are due to the conference sponsors, without whom these events
would not be possible.

Headline sponsor: P4 Fastel

Gold sponsor: elp

Silver sponsors: Advanced, Eaton, Emergi-lite, Fulham, Harvard Technology, Parhelion, Philips, PhotonStar

And Supporters: BAFE, BLE and Syam

And a final word for the funkiest emergency lighting that I’ve ever seen: ‘smoke-penetrating emergency lighting’ may sound a bit dry, but disco-inspired escape lighting does it for me! Thank you, Parhelion.


  • Emergency lighting is one of key themes of LuxLive 2017, taking place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November 2017 in ExCeL London. At the Escape Zone, a full programme of presentations and demonstrations will take place. Entry is free – pre-register at www.luxlive.co.uk